Tuesday (January 11th) was the first ever Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day and I was pleased to support it.
Run by the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, the day aimed to raise the profile of the six less survivable cancers - cancers of the lung, pancreas, liver, brain, oesophagus and stomach - to raise awareness of symptoms, and to highlight the critical importance of early diagnosis in improving survival.
Sadly, only 16% of people diagnosed with a less survivable cancer will live for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
More than 4,400 people will be diagnosed each year in Wales with one of these 6 cancers and, because of the short prognosis for these cancers, they make up over 40% of all deaths from cancer each year.
Less survivable cancers are difficult to diagnose. Screening programmes are limited or non-existent and most of the general public are unaware of common symptoms. Data released by the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce in 2021 showed that awareness of the symptoms of the deadliest cancers is as low as 4% in the UK. Many patients with a less survivable cancer will only be diagnosed after an emergency admission to hospital or an emergency GP referral after symptoms have become severe.
For other common cancers, the proportion diagnosed at such a late stage is far lower and the average five-year survival rate is markedly higher at 69%. Data released by the NHS last year showed that the proportion of less survivable cancers diagnosed in England in emergency settings like A&E departments and resulting in first hospital admissions was far higher than for more survivable cancers. While 2.7% of breast and 7.8% of prostate cancer cases were diagnosed as an emergency, the figures were 53% for pancreatic, 52.7% for Central Nervous System (including brain), 44.9% for liver, 35.3% for lung, 30.2% for stomach and 20.5% for oesophageal cancers. These late diagnoses account, in part, for the catastrophic prognoses for thousands of people each year as patients with cancers that are diagnosed in an emergency suffer significantly worse outcomes.
The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce is urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms of these deadly cancers and to seek medical help at the earliest opportunity if they recognise any of the signs. Typical symptoms will vary but red flags for less survivable cancers could include any of the following;
● Brain: Vision and speech problems, headaches, nausea, vomiting, seizures, mental or behavioural changes.
● Liver: Unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite, feeling and being sick, pain or swelling in your abdomen, jaundice, itchy skin, tiredness, fever, vomiting blood, dark urine.
● Lung: A persistent cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, unexpected weight loss, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, feeling tired or weak.
● Oesophageal: difficulty swallowing, indigestion or heartburn, loss of appetite, vomiting, stomach, chest or back pain, a persistent cough, hoarseness, tiredness and shortness of breath.
● Pancreatic: Pain in the back or stomach, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), indigestion, changes in bowel habits.
● Stomach: indigestion that doesn’t go away, trapped wind, heartburn, feeling bloated or full very quickly when eating small amounts, feeling or being sick, tummy pain or pain behind the breastbone, difficulty swallowing, unexpected weight loss.
I urge anyone reading this who is experiencing any of the above symptoms to seek medical help swiftly.
For further information on the six less survivable cancers visit First ever Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day! - Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce